For as long as I’ve been blogging about being a parent raising a daughter in the shadow of princess culture, I’ve had online feedback suggesting I check out the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon (aka MLP:FiM).
At first, I ignored them. What were they thinking? These people clearly didn’t understand I wanted to show my daughter content with themes of female empowerment and self-confidence; to find stories and characters that didn’t patronise young girls; that had imaginative female led tales of action and adventure yet with stimulating and thought provoking scenarios. My Little Pony was surely part of the problem – not the solution. Yet, the recommendations kept on coming, from even the most feminist community members. Could it be true? Could My Little Pony – which in my mind typified the kind of content I was opposed to – really provide a substantive alternative to Disney Princesses? So with some (many) reservations, one afternoon we took the plunge and watched it.
Is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic the princess alternative I’m looking for?
I couldn’t quite believe it. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a delightful, smart, funny, really well written & animated show – that most importantly treated its intended audience of young girls with respect and intelligence. I was rather gobsmacked. And an instant fan… While it has the colours, the coiffed manes, the “cutie marks”, and the like from its 80s stablemate I was judging it from – it also has a ‘hip’ factor that really surprised me. But above all it is the core of distinctive female characters that make this show. There is a character here for everyone, but to be honest even the least favoured ones have endearing qualities. Creator Lauren Faust was inspired by her love of the toys as a child, but how the cartoons of the 80s failed to live up to the adventures in her imagination and play. Well, this new incarnation is full of creativity and adventure. The set up is this (some spoilers): Princess Celestia, ruler of Equestria sends bookish unicorn Twilight Sparkle to the town of Ponyville to study the magic of friendship. She forms bonds with cowgirl apple farmer Applejack, high-energy Rainbow Dash, party girl Pinkie Pie, animal lover Fluttershy, and fashionista Rarity. It turns out each one represents one of the ‘Elements of Harmony’: Honesty, Loyalty, Laughter, Generosity, and Kindness. Twilight Sparkle is the last element – Magic. Also in the mix is Celestia’s sister Princess Luna, a dragon called Spike, and all sort of sub-characters and adventures… It may sound confusing and/or convoluted – but my point in going through this is I think there’s real thought been put into setting the scene for female led tales of magic, adventure, and friendship. Lauren Faust has admitted that while the show is riddled with pink, has princesses, and that she was somewhat at the behest of Hasbro’s needs to sell toys – she and her team tried to manage this with integrity and creativity. I think they succeeded brilliantly.
Isn’t My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic just a silly girly cartoon?
In an early defence of the show, creator Lauren Faust said: “…many people without even watching the show (will) label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies or an evil corporate commercial. I encourage skeptics like this to watch My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic with an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, I think you’ll be surprised.” I would take issue with one thing she said – that labelling the show ‘girly’ is derogatory. Why? Perhaps one of Lauren Faust’s achievements is that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic helps redefine the word ‘girly’ to no longer be an insult. ‘Girly’ should simply mean something that is of – or for – girls, and not judging because it is. I have not mentioned the pony in the room – the brony. Male fans (of which I must now count myself) are collectively referred to as ‘Bronies’, and we are many. So while the show may have been made to for girls, this doesn’t mean that boys won’t like it either.
Is ‘My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic’ feminist?
Of course it’s feminist. Completely so. Unashamedly so. This is a show created by a woman, about female characters supporting each other, in a land ruled by a female, where the default for any additional character is female, in a show that absolutely doesn’t patronise the intended audience of little girls with an assumption of frivolous interests alone. Feminism – as well as friendship – is magic. My wife commented on an episode the other day. It involved two ponies engaged in a sporting rivalry who faced off in a sporting tournament. She observed that when growing up she would NEVER have seen a cartoon or TV show where two female characters engaged in a testing physical sporting competition. She only ever saw males doing that. This is a show that resets the norm from the male default. There are male characters (most notably Spike the baby dragon) but they are supporting cast – the norm is female. This is a cartoon that I cannot imagine has a single episode which doesn’t pass the Bechedel Test. In many ways, the show reminded me of the cheery empowering tone of Amy Poehler’s Lesley Knope in Parks and Recreation – I think if Knope had a favourite cartoon, it would be My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Lauren Faust’s involvement tailed off after season 1 (which we are currently watching). The reasons for Lauren Faust leaving My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have never been made clear. Perhaps it was the struggles mentioned earlier – in trying to balance her desire to make a great show for girls with the desire for Hasbro to market the toys their way? Perhaps it was other ‘creative differences’. I hope the adventurous empowering tone of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic continues in subsequent seasons. We shall definitely see, as my daughter and I are now hooked – so will continue watching the show despite Faust’s departure. On a recent foreign holiday, we picked up our first MLP toys, something I NEVER thought I would happily buy for our daughter. My transformation to a Brony-dad of a daughter is complete.
===== NB: Subsequent to her time running MLP:FiM, Lauren Faust created the short lived DC Nation animated shorts Super Best Friends Forever, about the team up of Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Girl. If you haven’t done so already – please watch the five episodes in all their glory here: